Malaysia’s top court on Monday upheld a government ban forbidding non-Muslims from using “Allah” to refer to God, rejecting an appeal by the Roman Catholic Church that argued that the ban failed to consider the rights of minorities in the mostly Muslim nation.
The Federal Court ruled in a 4-3 decision that the church’s newspaper has no grounds to appeal a lower court decision last year that kept it from using “Allah” in its Malay-language weekly publication.
Allah is the Arabic word for God and commonly used in the Malay language to refer to God.
The government says Allah should be reserved exclusively for Muslims – who make up nearly two-thirds of the country’s 29 million people because if other religions use it that could confuse Muslims and lead them to convert.
Christian representatives deny this, saying that Christians, many of whom live on Borneo island, have long used the word to refer to God in their Bibles and songs before authorities sought to enforce the ban in recent years.
“We are disappointed. The four judges who denied us the right to appeal did not touch on fundamental basic rights of minorities?,” said Rev. Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Catholic newspaper, The Herald.